No Appeasement on Ashrawi Award
By COLIN RUBENSTEIN
21 November 2003
Australian Labor parliamentarian Michael Danby claims that it was only
the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council that campaigned against
the appropriateness of this month's awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize
to Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, and that this campaign ended up
being counter-productive ("Over the Top Protest Down Under,"
He is wrong on both counts.
The condemnation of the Sydney Peace Foundation's shameful partisanship
and the expression of disappointment over the decision of New South
Wales Labor Premier Bob Carr to present the award was wall-to-wall by
all major and mainstream Jewish organizations, federal and state. The
New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies even overwhelmingly passed a
resolution calling on Carr to reconsider at a time when it was clear he
would not. As for the petition mentioned by Danby, this was an
initiative of Gerald Steinberg, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in
Israel, and the large number of signatures it garnered was testimony to
the ground swell of opposition to the award.
Efforts by Aijac and other organizations achieved results where it
counted. Some of Australia's leading newspaper editorials, opinion
columnists and political commentators weighed in against the choice of
Ashrawi as peace prize recipient.
Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander
Downer and other senior government ministers all opposed the choice of
Ashrawi. Not a single senior member of Danby's Labor Party spoke out in
Ashrawi's favor, nor criticized our community's efforts. Support for
Ashrawi was limited to a handful of members on the hard left.
Moreover, Danby's claims that the prize might have induced Ashrawi to
become a genuine partner for peace if the Jewish community had kept
quiet are ludicrous based on her own statements.
While in Australia, Ashrawi refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist
organization and attacked the Australian government for banning it,
accusing Israel of pressuring Australia to do so. She also expressed
support for the Palestinian "struggle" and resistance triggered by
"occupation," rejecting the road map peace plan's main requirement
Palestinians to stop terrorism and dismantle its infrastructure. To top
it all off, Ashrawi threatened to replace Israel with a bi-national
state, reaffirming the absolute right of Palestinian refugees to "have
the right to choose" whether to live in Palestine or Israel.
It was disturbing that public discussion of this dispute was marred by
some racist stereotypes that were cast against supposedly sinister
Jewish "lobbying." In particular, the director of the Sydney Peace
Foundation, Stuart Rees, alleged that sections of the Jewish community
were challenging "the health of Australian democracy" by using
"formidable financial power" to engage in a campaign of
bullying and intimidation." The debate was also sadly sidetracked by
some Jewish leaders, who, when confronted by claims that the community
was bringing antisemitism on itself by speaking out, engaged in
scapegoating other Jewish organizations rather than repudiating this
It is untenable to suggest that, in the absence of criticism, Ashrawi
would have received anything less than the fawning saturation publicity
she regularly experiences. In all probability, she would have made more
inroads among the ambivalent, who, lacking any background, might have
been persuaded by her human rights rhetoric camouflaging an
uncompromising bottom line.
Australia's Jewish community has a long and proud record of full and
effective participation in Australia's pluralist democracy. Neither
racist invective nor political opportunism inhibited us from speaking
out on the inappropriateness of Ashrawi's award - nor will they in the
future on comparable issues. Appeasement is beneath our communal
Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish